Building a self sufficient 4WD and camper trailer
Australia is truly an amazing place. We’ve been lucky enough to see a fair chunk of it over the years, and are continually working on improving the way we travel. Up until now, we’ve been using an 80 Series Land Cruiser and an Oztent RV5, along with various other bits of gear.
A couple of months ago though, after the birth of our little boy, we purchased a second hand soft floor camper trailer, and then not long after that an Isuzu Dmax. The idea was simple; to build a setup that enabled us to travel comfortably and stay off the grid for an extended period of time. Self sufficient camping has a lot of rewards!
Up until now, we’ve done up to about two weeks off the grid, and would like to be able to make that even longer. The aim of the game is to be comfortable off the grid too, so we began looking at camper trailer setup ideas.
There’s no reason why you can’t set yourself up to be self sufficient. Obviously you still need to top up on fuel, food and water from time to time, but it means you can stay away from towns and shops for weeks at a time.
What’s the purpose of being self sufficient?
When there are facilities all around Australia, what’s the purpose of being self sufficient? For us, its pretty simple; to get away from everything to the best places Australia has to offer. Getting off the grid means the camping is cheaper (or free!), the locations are better and you don’t have to deal with hordes of people. An off the grid 4×4 allows for you to head almost anywhere you want to!
Caravan parks are fantastic for many people, and we make use of them from time to time as well. However, they can also be expensive, crammed in and unpleasant. Being self sufficient allows you to be in control of the way you camp, and with the right setup you can be very comfortable.
What do you need for self sufficient travel and camping?
Food can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. We believe in being comfortable when going camping, so we eat decent, healthy meals that taste great. From time to time we will eat 2 minute noodles, but its a rare occasion.
If you have a fridge and some decent storage, there’s no reason why you can’t eat good food each night. We take vegetables and fruit that lasts a decent length of time, and pre-make some sauces and meals. If you can split your fridge into a freezer then you have even more options.
On our 5 weeks in the Kimberley, we took almost all 5 weeks worth of meat with us, in half of our Evakool fridge and freezer.
Up until now, we’ve used our 55L Evakool as a fridge, or fridge/freezer depending on the trips, a plastic tub for general staples and another for food.
With the camper trailer, storage is much more plentiful and although we are still using food tubs, we will build a pantry to make things more accessible. We’ve also purchased another 55L Evakool, which will be used as a permanent freezer.
55L of fridge capacity, and 55L of freezer capacity; we won’t be going hungry any time soon! This allows us plenty of room to store fresh fish and crayfish caught, which we get a lot of when travelling.
There isn’t anything more important than clean drinking water when you travel. Don’t skimp on taking water, as it can have dire consequences. You should take anywhere from 3 – 15 litres of water per person per day, depending on the region you are travelling, how much physical work you are doing and how you use your water.
If you are having showers you will need a lot more than that. Water is heavy, so getting an idea of how much you need is a worthwhile exercise.
Up until now, we would carry 60 – 80L of water in the 4WD, and top up where we could. The camper trailer has 135L of water on board now, and we will take extra in the 4WD as required. Steep point recommends 10L per person per day – with 9 days planned we are supposed to be taking around 180L of water!
Jerry cans are fantastic, but when you start carrying more than 3 or 4 they are a pain, and a permanent tank or bladder is well worth getting.
You might argue this isn’t a necessity, and it’s probably not. However, it goes a massive difference to living comfortably when camping. We use 12V power to run our fridge, LED lights, charge camera and laptop batteries and a small inverter to charge our shark shields, for free diving.
Our 4WD has a secondary battery which runs the fridge, inverter from time to time and LED lights. We have a 100W solar panel semi permanently mounted on the roof racks, with a 160W portable panel that is set up as required. With the addition of the camper trailer and wanting to run a freezer full time, our electrical setup is getting a substantial upgrade.
If you are looking for information on solar panels, check this out – Portable vs Fixed solar panels, and also eBay solar panels; how to avoid getting ripped off.
I’ve done some testing, and found that the Evakool 55L uses in between 650 and 1100 watts per 24 hours, when keeping produce at around -16 to – 18 degrees. That’s 54 to 100 amp hours a day, which is a lot of power consumption.
I’ve purchased two 200W panels (1580 x 808mm) which are being mounted on the boat loader, and two 135ah deep cycle AGM batteries. The panels are oversized to compensate for being permanently mounted.
This is all going on the camper trailer, and will power our freezer, some LED lighting and a few other basics.
You can read more about the upgrade here – Camper Trailer Solar and Battery Upgrade.
Diesel and Petrol
Our 80 Series carries 145L of diesel on board as standard. Towing the camper, and only using about 130L that gives us just over 700km range. That’s not bad, but not great either, and we often carry 40L of diesel in Jerry cans.
These days, the boat and custom trailer we built comes with us too (towed by friends). It runs a 25hp 2 stroke Mercury, which is pretty good on fuel all things considered. Normally we carry about 10 – 15L of petrol per day for fairly heavy use.
The camper trailer has 3 spots for 20L jerry cans, and that will be upgraded soon too. We have carried diesel in the back of the 4WD from time to time, but would never do it with petrol.
Toilets are often available, even when heading fairly off the grid. If they haven’t been available, we’ve just dug a hole, or borrowed a mates portable toilet.
We just recently purchased a Thetford Qube 365 which will be taken on all future trips. The advantage of having a camper trailer is that you can take a lot more gear both in terms of weight and space, and a toilet is a luxury we can now afford to fit in!
Having a good tent to sleep in makes all the difference. If you’ve ever been drowned or blown away when camping you’ll know its rather off putting. Our Oztent has been fantastic, but the camper trailer has replaced it. The tent is substantially bigger, and gives us a lot more room to move around, which is important with a little bub.
A tent with good quality canvas, an intelligent design and set up properly should keep you dry, warm and comfortable.
Keeping clean; showers and clothes washing
No one likes a stinky camper. In some parts of Australia, water is plentiful and showers are a luxury easily afforded. The Kimberley for example, has no shortage of water during the dry season, and there are showers available at many camp sites. However, head south and you will have a shortage of water, and carrying enough to take showers like you would at home just isn’t an option.
We often camp near the beach, and have purchased a special soap that suds in the water, and works quite well. If you don’t like the salt water remains, we just use a bucket of fresh water to rinse off after. Baby wipes are especially useful on longer trips to keep yourself clean, just take them home with you as they don’t break down!
Asides from that, a bucket of warm water with soap and a flannel will keep you fairly clean while conserving water. If we have water available, we use a 20L black solar bag which despite my initial reservations actually works very well!
In regards to washing clothes, doing it by hand might not be as easy as chucking it in the washing machine at home, but its simple, reliable and works well. We wash our clothes in one bucket, then use another bucket of clean water to rinse them, and then hang them out to dry.
If you were travelling full time, there are reverse osmosis units that can take water from creeks, the ocean or a river and convert it into perfectly safe drinking water. These use a fair bit of power, and aren’t cheap, but they are a worthy investment if you are going to use them a lot.
We’ve found our bush camps are usually enough entertainment for us. If there’s not an amazing beach to swim at, or waterfall to explore, there will be something for you to enjoy. Other than that, we love to take photos, read books, plan future trips and relax around the camp fire.
What have we missed?
What else is necessary for self sufficient camping? What do you guys use and love?